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In the Passover Hagada we're told about the four sons.

The second one is called wicked because he asks, "What is this service to you?!" ("מה העבודה הזאת לכם?") (emphasis mine), while the first one is wise because he asks, "What are the testimonies, the statutes and the laws which the L-rd, our G-d, has commanded you?" ("מה העדות והחוקים והמשפטים אשר ציווה ה' אלוקינו אתכם?").

Both of them ask about the second person (you), and not the first (us). Why is the second one considered wicked because of this, while the first one's distancing from everybody else is not even mentioned?

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HaSeder Ha'aruch (134:9-13) collects several answers to this question:

  1. The wise son says "אתכם" since he did not personally hear the command, and he is referring to the generation which left Egypt. Since he mentions Hashem -"Which the L-rd, our G-d has commanded" he is not excluding himself. However, the wicked son who does not mention Hashem in his words is considered to be excluding himself. (Machzor Vitri)

  2. Although "אתכם" is written without a vov, it should be read with a choylam, meaning "אותי ואתכם". (Machzor Vitri based on Sotah 34a)

  3. The reason why the Chocham says "אתכם" is because we do not slaughter the Korban Pesach for a minor, and therefore it is not considered as if he is excluding himself (Shibaley Haleket, Chukus Hapesach and more)

  4. The Chocham asks about a command that Hashem commanded and therefore says "אתכם" since he want to hear the command the way it was given. Whereas, the Rosha asks not about the command but about the actual practise and excludes himself by saying "לכם". (Ma'asey Nissim")

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I find the "our God" in #1 particularly compelling, thanks. On that same explanation, since the father at the seder wasn't in that generation either, how does אתכם refer to that generation? – Monica Cellio Nov 18 '12 at 15:50
A joke that I heard in a lecture by Shnayer Leiman: The difference is that the chacham is a yeshiva bachur, so he doesn't know Hebrew grammar, doesn't know the difference between "אתכם" and "אותנו". So we can't blame him for using the wrong pronoun. The rasha, on the other hand, is an apikores, so of course he knows grammar! He knows exactly what he's saying when he uses "לכם". – jake Nov 18 '12 at 18:11
@jake I saw such a story brought in a Hagada, where one of the maskillim tried to start up with a certain rov and convince him that at they should at least learn dikduk, to which he replied... – Michoel Nov 18 '12 at 19:54
What you write in the name of Ma'asei Nisim is shared by the Maharal in Gvuros HaShem and Malbim in his hagadah commentary – b a Nov 18 '12 at 23:14

Just to add to @Michoel's answers I have my own thought. Have a look at the Posuk by the Chacham, it says there, when your son will ask you. By the Rasha however, it says when when he will tell you.

There is a famous story of an Apikores who told a Gadol that he had many questions on Judaism. The Rov told him he can answer questions, but he cant answer answers. What he meant was what the Rasha called questions he called answers as to why he went off but not that the questions were the cause.

So too we see that the Chacham wants an answer because he asked, so it makes sense to judge him accordingly. The Rasha does not ask, so we do not judge him favorably.

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+1 can you specify which pasuk (chapter and verse, please) belongs to which son? – Double AA Nov 18 '12 at 13:45
I've heard this before, but I don't remember in whose name. +1, anyway. – msh210 Nov 18 '12 at 15:35
@DoubleAA I am used to relying on you for that ;). Joking, will (hopefully) do it later. – Yehuda Nov 18 '12 at 17:12
Your story with the "gadol" is said in the name of Rabbi CHayim Volozhin: theshmuz.com/blog/… – b a Nov 18 '12 at 23:06

In each case, far too much emphasis is placed on the words "to you", and not enough on the rest of the verse.

The wicked son says, "What is this service to you?" He just plainly lays out that he doesn't have any interest in it whatsoever.

The wise son, on the other hand, says, "What are the testimonies* and the statutes, which HaShem, our G-d, has commanded you?" He clearly includes himself in the community by recognizing his own relationship with HaShem, but he doesn't understand what the service is about or how it relates to him, but he wants to understand it, so the response given is about the laws as a means to engage him in further study.

*Basic translation

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I placed the emphasis on "to you" in both cases, because the text places that emphasis only for the wicked son, when that same text exists for the wise one. – Nathan Fellman Nov 19 '12 at 17:14
@Nathan, I know, but the emphasis on "to you" stems from his removal of himself from the community (either by or including his failure to acknowledge HaShem), as the Haggadah states, "To you, but not to him. Since he has removed himself from the community, he has blasphemed." – Seth J Nov 19 '12 at 17:25
@Nathan, remember, although the Haggadah states "The Torah speaks of four sons..." this is not evident in the text. It is Midrash. The text merely speaks about how to address your son "when he asks..." or, in the case of the One Who Doesn't Know How To Ask, even without his asking. The Midrash observes that there are different responses to different situations, and frames them in the context of different types of children. – Seth J Nov 19 '12 at 17:27
that is an interesting point. He is not wicked because of what he asks, but rather he asks what he does because he is wicked. – Nathan Fellman Nov 19 '12 at 18:19

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